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BASW pledge to work with CQC to address lack of places of safety for mentally unwell young people

BASW has pledged its commitment to working with The Care Quality Commission (CQC) to address the problem of a national shortage of ‘places of safety’ where young people who experience episodes of mental ill health in public places can be taken.

People detained by the police under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act must be taken immediately to a safe place where a mental health assessment can be done.

This place of safety should be a health-based, in a mental health hospital or an emergency department at a general hospital. Police cells should only be used in “exceptional circumstances”.

However, new data from the Care Quality Commission shows 35% of NHS "places of safety" in England refuse to admit under 16s, often leaving police with no option but to detain mentally unwell young people in cells.

In the financial year 2012/13, there were 21,814 reported uses of Section 136, of which 7,761 involved the use of a police cell.

In 2012/13, Figures from the Association of Chief Police Officers estimate 580 children were detained by the police under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act, and of those, 45% were taken into police custody.

The CQC believes that the restrictions on access for young people to health-based places of safety in some areas are a “key reason”.

Commenting on the CQC findings, Faye Wilson, chair of the British Association of Social Workers’ mental health forum, said: “The CQC’s work highlights how fragmented and patchy place of safety provision is for adults and, particularly, for young people. It is deplorable that young people at their most vulnerable cannot access age appropriate places of safety. We want to work with CQC to get that addressed across the country.”

BASW Professional Officer Joe Godden added: “These figures are extremely troubling; these young people are very vulnerable.

“This latest evidence accords with the views of our members who have had to face awful situations of young people requiring a place of safety, but no health service place has not been available. This is very distressing for social workers and of course even worse for the young people they feel they are letting down. In short, it is a scandal.”

BASW is currently preparing a response to the Home Office consultation on the use of the Mental Health Act by police in England and Wales, which closes on 3rd June.